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Consolidation of WV regional development authorities scrutinized

By THERESA MARTHEY

The Preston County News and Journal

KINGWOOD, W.Va.  — State officials have been looking at mandating consolidation of the 11 Regional Planning and Development councils. Region VI members are concerned about how the proposed consolidation is being handled, and one Preston County representative has questions that he would like answered.

Preston County Commissioner Don Smith doesn’t have an issue with the consolidation, but he does have concerns about how the West Virginia Department of Commerce is going about it.

“The state is forcing consolidation on every level, and I don’t have a problem with it if it is done voluntarily,” Smith said. “But the way the state is discussing this consolidation doesn’t make any sense.”

The regional councils focus on turning community and economic needs into plans and then into actual projects or programs, such as the Rowlesburg and Newburg water line extension projects.

Smith said West Virginia and Marshall universities completed a study on the need for consolidation of the councils that makes sense, but he said the actual plan doesn’t.

“The proposal states that a study was done, but it doesn’t look like they did a study,” Smith said. “It looks like they just arbitrarily put counties together, and you run into problems like we have with the regional jails.”

Smith said when county jails areas were consolidated, it didn’t make sense why officials decided to put the regional jail in Randolph County.

“Why did Preston County go to that area? Why wasn’t the jail placed in Barbour County, where it would be centralized?” Smith asked. “The state dictated it, and that is where my problem is with this consolidation.”

Smith said he has heard there were rumblings in the Legislature last session about consolidating the 911 centers across the state to six regional facilities.

“There again, for example, the state may decide Preston County will go with Monongalia County, but maybe we wouldn’t want to go with Mon County,” Smith said. “Perhaps it would be better if we went with Tucker and Barbour counties. But this is all speculation and just an example.”

Smith said that when consolidating the regional councils, he believes it would be better for counties to go with their matching interests and with the counties with which they have worked in the past.

“Another issue is going to be the size of the council,” Smith said. “This current council has a 60-plus member board. Each municipality has a representative.

“You increase the size, and the board is now 122 people,” Smith said. “How manageable is that? And now the small municipalities like Rowlesburg, Bruceton Mills or Brandonville are literally going to be pushed away because the funding is going to go where there is more bang for the buck.”

Region VI consists of six counties — Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston and Taylor — and 39 municipalities. The board is consists of public and private sector members.

Smith said he has not seen a timeline as to when, or if, the consolidation of councils will take place, but he understands the premise.

Currently, Region VI is working on water projects in Rowlesburg and Newburg, but those projects would not be affected if a consolidation takes place.

A planned meeting between West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher and the Region VI Regional Planning and Development Council did not take place as scheduled on Nov. 16.

“Secretary Thrasher canceled the meeting,” Smith said. “The meeting is to be rescheduled for December, but we have not heard when.”

Several calls placed to Region VI Director Sheena Hunt for comment were not returned.

Staff Writer Theresa Marthey can be reached at (304) 276-1127 or by email at [email protected].

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